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Serenader FB467

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A solo Journey from HolyHead to Howth

Current Owner
Previous owners
Gordon Parker - Howth YC
Built Rostock
General Information  

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Dun Laoghaire 1999

Helmed by Gordon and crewed by Graham Wilson once of Alar


Solo to Howth Summer 1992
a single handed journey by Gordon Parker

Folkboat week at the Menai Straits had been a marvellous week of sailing. The 21st July found me without a crew swinging on a Holyhead mooring, basking in beautiful sunshine, wishing that the preparations were made. That morning I checked the rigging, removed the courtesy flag which had been fouled up high in the mast, re-rigged for solo sailing and was happy that all was in perfect order, genoa was hanked on and lashed ready for use.
Below all un-required items were secured for I like everything to stay in its place. Put the shaving mirror beneath the engine to give it a thorough check, dipped the oil, checked the fuel lines, made sure all the double protective covers were in place, to protect from abrasion. Checked the diesel tank and filled from the spare containers, greased the stern gland and re-stowed the stern locker contents with the bailing bucket easy to reach, hatch cover secured.
Time was moving fast. It was now afternoon and time for a snack. I still had to check the battery, and its terminals, navigation lights, row ashore to top up water and spare diesel containers, walk to the supermarket and call into the Coastguard Station for a weather briefing. Phone home to Dublin. Prepare a stew, snacks, boil water to fill the flasks for the voyage.
The sun was now low over the breakwater. The echo sounder was given a new lease of life with fresh batteries, and the Decca was programmed. The charts were put in order of need. Clearing lines, bolt holes, and passage plans were ready. Dinner was scoffed. I switched on the TV for the 2125 weather, still looking good for tomorrow. Secured the TV, set the alarm clock and hit the bunk exhausted.

Morning came with a shrill. Dazed with the impact of its arrival, fumbled for the radio "on" switch and scribbled the contents of the early morning shipping forecast. The weather window, was a little smaller, Can I do it? Can I make it?

Out of the hatch I went, the air was still and the sun was the sole possessor of the sky. The big decision had been made. I sail at 0800 with the RTE forecast. Meanwhile on with BBC longwave, on with channel 16, Decca behaving well, engine on, sailing clothes on, and breakfast things tidied away. Into the cockpit lockers on each side went the sandwich containers, with tomatoes, boiled eggs, rolls, fruit, and Bewley's Eccles cakes. Into my shirt pocket went a miniature transistor radio.

The Irish forecast came and gave confirmation of the reducing window, but I had been up three hours and what was I going to do for the rest of the day?
I dropped the mooring, motored over to Folkboat Orla and returned her tender. Waved my goodbyes to other sailors in the harbour. Raised the main and motor sailed for an hour to catch the stream off South Stack Lighthouse at 0945.
Now with the full main and genoa drawing well and balanced, I went below to check the Decca. Took compass bearings and checked the trailing log. On her new course Serenader reached for Howth loving every minute of the steady southerly force three.
I settled in to an enjoyable spell of helmsmanship in the knowledge that if I failed to pass my noon position there would be a pleasant return to Holyhead for teatime. At regular intervals I took a back bearing on a prominent lighthouse.
Noon was decision time. The barometer was up three millibars over 6 hours, visibility good, wind 3 to 4 and my position far better than expected. Delighted, the westerly heading was maintained.
The 1255 forecast arrived and I ducked below to note the log and check the distance run, for the yacht was trotting along at 5 knots and up to 6 knots for another hour. At 1400 the Decca was flashing alarm. The wind was a 4 and I was mentally calculating my ETA with this exciting progress.

The ferry was dead on the bow, bearing almost constant. I was about to bear away when two miles off, she altered course and kept clear of her wind shadow. The frisky yacht was heeled to the gunwales and remained so. Vision was punctuated by the compass, bow, and log; did I see 7 knots? The hull speed was getting faster and faster, hour after hour. The horizon dropped out of sight to re-appear. Log at 7 knots constant. Well heeled and the main spilling most of the force 6 wind.

I have to reef down. How am I going to do it? Do I need to? Maybe it will be all right. Between the horizons I was getting an ever-longer time to think about a sail change. It was now 1600 hours and 7.5 knots was occasionally up to 8.
Forty one miles out of Holyhead, over went the helm and for what seemed long time the Rostock Folkboat was sailing east, while I found the nerve to reef down.
Helm abandoned, headsails flapping, yacht lying abeam on to the seas, the small jib was grabbed and carried forward. Clipped on, after a long slow sail change, I rested against the forward stanchion and gazed at the oncoming seas. Moved to the mast and flattened in the third reef. Standing on the coach-roof, tired after thirty minutes of sail changing, was aware of looking up to the coming silvery lumpy sea. Reassured, noted the log, guessed the wind at 5 or 6 backing, swallowed a boiled egg, gulped a juicy tomato and was back on course at 1730.
With less sail the varnished Folkboat galloped faster, 8 knots and more. Another mental ETA. Howth 2000 and in time for my phone call home. Log, compass, log, log, trawler was it? After the next valley, log, NW trawler on the horizon plunging southwards. Trawler nets how far astern? Alter course now or wait until collision speed is confirmed? Down into another valley and the decision was easy to make. Sail easiest course through the waves.
Hit by the wind on the crest, coming down heeled over, standing on the cockpit sides, I gave the slack on my safety harness a few turns round the idle port winch. Sailing the yacht fast, the trawler was soon far to the north-east. The seas were now getting steeper, the old reliable log glistened 8 knots up the front of the waves which by now were just as steep on the back.

Sailing on auto-reflex, helm, compass, sea, log, helm, sliding off the back of a wave the stern screeched for a second time.
Alarmed at the sight of another wake emerging from the hull to the crest of the just passed sea. I pushed the helm over and recovered in another valley. Sheltered boltholes, with telephone, flashed through the brain. Wicklow offered easy access, Dun Laoghaire had today the small problem of the Kish bank. Howth was preferred, Skerries if I could get behind the wall, but I did not fancy a night asking trawler men to let me tie up.
Land which might be Ben of Howth on the port bow, a watercolorists dream appeared against a pale cadmium watery sunset. Full of joy and relief at the prospect of being in by 1900, and a fast passage made. I worked the helm and scanned the horizon for other landmarks. There on the starboard bow the unmistakable lighthouse standing white and proud. Could it be the Kish?

rockabill.jpg (103220 bytes)Lee bowing the stream, riding the crests, spilling all from the main. Hugging the windward winch with my left arm it was now a race for shelter. 1900 hrs came and with it a pile of rocks beneath the light, still northwest. At a guess I was eight miles off course. The seas were increasing and now and again got the sensation of exceptional elevation. Another thirty minutes of this and the Skerries bolthole was off the list. To slip between Rockabill lighthouse and the islands with short stern seas and opposing stream was not for today.

Pushing on as fast as possible to get shelter, Folkboat 467 closed the shore with water running along the coachhouse roof, through the hatch and onto my bunk, as she sliced down the back of waves. The electric pump worked like a dream. As I watched the distant, hazy Wicklow mountains overlap Howth Head which closed Lambay Island, down went the sea. The wind continued as before and Seranader was pulling out of the south-going stream.

Now ravenous, hardened in the sheets and sailed for the anchorage at the back of Lambay. Radio crackled "…Irish Sea… wind reported 35 knots…" The intervening twenty minutes gave me time to think of new possibilities. Closing the anchorage, freed off the sheets and approached with caution on a flat water violent gusts. Too hungry to anchor, I rooted out the pressure cooker half full of stew and devoured the lot. The flasks were cold. In order to think, I needed coffee. With two dessert spoonfuls of coffee in a cup of water, I soon felt like a light bulb that had just been switched on.
Attracted by a night in Lambay harbour, at 20:15 checked the tides. With an hour and a half left of the ebb, Lambay, now drying out was off the list. Decided to push on. Two long port tacks, through home waters and a super Folkboat was in Howth Marina before club bar closing time.
I rushed to the phone, dialed, waited, waited. "This is Gordon Parker. I am temporarily unavailable, please leave your name and number after the tone".


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This page was last edited 15/01/02 10:32